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Firefighter Fitness Training

author image Rashelle Brown
Rashelle Brown has been writing since 2003, primarily covering topics on health, fitness and nutrition. She is an ACE certified personal trainer and health coach, and the author of She is an occasional contributor to "IDEA Fitness Journal" and is currently working on a weight loss book.
Firefighter Fitness Training
Firefighters spraying a fire during a training exercise. Photo Credit: Johnny Habell/iStock/Getty Images

Firefighting is one of the most physically demanding jobs out there. Firefighters are required to run, climb, lift and carry while wearing over 50 pounds of gear. Muscular strength, muscular endurance, aerobic endurance and anaerobic endurance can all come into play during a single, routine call. For this reason, it's important for firefighters and those aspiring to join their ranks to adhere to a training program that incorporates all of these areas of fitness.

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Know What's Expected of You

In 2006, the International Association of Firefighters developed a comprehensive Candidate Physical Ability Test for prospective recruits. The test consists of eight different events designed to closely replicate the most common physical tasks firefighters face in the line of duty. Those eight events include a stair climb, ladder raise and extension, hose drag, equipment carry, forcible entry, a crawling search through dark spaces, a body drag and ceiling pull. The wide variety of these tasks indicates the breadth of fitness firefighters are required to have, allowing no room for weakness in any one area.

Train Your Muscles in Two Distinctly Important Ways

Having the strength required to lift and carry a body is quite different than having the muscular endurance to hammer away at a steel door until it gives, but both may be required at a single call. That's why it's important for firefighters to train muscular strength and endurance equally. To build strength, lift a heavy weight that only allows you to perform up to six repetitions. To train strength and explosive power simultaneously, vary the speed of those repetitions. To increase muscular endurance, lighter weight should be lifted for 12 or more repetitions. Each major muscle group should be trained two or three times per week, on nonconsecutive days.

Train for the Long Call

While most firefighter fitness tests last for only 10 minutes or less, firefighters routinely find themselves on physically grueling calls that can last for hours. Add to this the fact that heart attack is the number one cause of death for firefighters, and you can see why aerobic fitness training is so important. A solid cardiovascular program for firefighters includes 20 to 60 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity cardiovascular activity on three to five days per week. Aerobic activities such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling and swimming are all good options, but stair climbing is specifically recommended because it is such a central task to firefighter duties.

Get to the Top of the Ladder With Energy to Spare

The tricky business of firefighting often requires climbing stairs or a ladder before the real work even begins. This type of taxing activity is performed in the anaerobic zone, where the body is burning glycogen stores instead of oxygen for fuel. This causes the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles, which can leave you feeling spent. Interval training is a good way to improve anaerobic endurance and avoid this outcome. After a short warm-up, perform four or more intervals of high-intensity effort alternately with easy recovery periods. Start with a work/recovery ratio of 2 to 1 and progress by reducing the recovery time until it is equal to or shorter than the work interval.

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